Western Libraries hosting exhibition featuring historical travel photography

Western Libraries Archives & Special Collections is hosting a new exhibition that explores the social and political context of photographs created as tourist souvenirs or to promote travel during the height of Western colonialism.

“Looking Abroad: Photography, Tourism, and Empire, 1870-1920,” will be on display through June 9, 2023, in Western Washington University Libraries Special Collections (Wilson 6th floor). The exhibit is free and open to the public and will be available for viewing Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., (or by appointment), closed weekends and holidays.

Why were early travel photographs made? What larger stories do they tell, and what are the challenges to interpreting them? In one sense, early tourist photography reflects Western eagerness to experience and appreciate different cultures. Seen from another angle, however, these images often perpetuated the stereotypes that underpinned Western economic and cultural imperialism. Like modern photographs, they also raise essential questions about context and perspective. “Looking Abroad” offers an opportunity to practice viewing both historical and contemporary photos with a critical eye.

For more information or to inquire about group/class visits to view the exhibit, please contact Special Collections Librarian Michael Taylor at taylo213@wwu.edu or (360) 650-3097.

A Japanese woman holds a scroll of caligraphy while she kneels on a reed mat.